Social Stigma and Homelessness: The Limits of Social Change

We examine the issues around the stigmatization of homelessness and how it links to capitalism. Society focuses on the individual as the cause of his or her own state of homelessness, blaming the victim rather than focusing on the larger antecedent social and economic forces, such as unemployment, limited affordable housing, and breakdowns in kinship networks. Social stigma occurs in situations where there is unequal social, economic, and political power and there is an opportunity to label, stereotype, separate (us versus them), lose status, and discriminate. Stigmatization is due, in part, when people feel threatened by another group. Society categorizes people who are homeless as no longer “useful” and/or “functional” members of capitalism, since they do not actively work and support the system. The paper ends on a discussion of the limits of social change in a capitalist society.

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Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment